Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No trees (or principles) were harmed during the making of this holiday.

When I was a small child in Nova Scotia, I used to set out on long treks through the wild, snowy woods in search of our Christmas trees, sometimes with my Dad, and sometimes alone.  I learned to tell the difference between the various species of fir and spruce (spruce cannot be harvested because they drop their needles too quickly).  There was a sense of accomplishment with finding the perfect tree and cutting it ourselves, and I really enjoyed having the smell of the fresh fir in the house, and the task of making sure it had plenty of water.
circa 1970.
Back then, there was still an uncountable number of trees, and only 4 billion people on the planet.  Now we have 6.8 billion people and the only trees left to harvest are the fakey-perfect ones grown on commercial tree lots.  Are they clones?  They might as well be, because they all look like it. 

No matter how sustainable this practice might be, I have no taste for it.  I don't begrudge those who follow tradition, but I can't enjoy the thought of killing a tree (and a cloned one at that) and then throwing it into the trash just for the sake of a few weeks' window-dressing (literally).  Or recycling it into sand dune anchors (which don't really work anyway).

So each year, we decorate one of our potted Norfolk Island pines

Please forgive her those PJ bottoms and socks!!
Depending on where they are in their growth cycle, on some years, the chosen individual may resemble another famous "alternative" Christmas tree:
But unlike the nonconformist depicted above, I don't feel any sense of anxiety or looming inadequacy associated with this decision.  Our trees live with us for years at a time and, each December, one of them lends a hand in the livingroom.  We ask them if they would kindly hold up a few decorations for a few weeks.  They say, "Sure, because I'd like to get away from the risk of frost anyway."

We also reject commercialized decorations for the most part.  We call the tree our "memory tree".  Each ornament marks a specific event, occasion, or gift.  When I started this tradition almost twenty years ago, I had a barren tree, indeed, with only one or two ornaments hanging on it.  But that was meaningful in itself, because it reminded me that I was just starting out in my adult life.  What good is an end-of-year holiday if it doesn't serve to remind you of where you've been, and where you ought to be going in the New Year?  And how can it do that if your principal holiday symbol is festooned with cheap shit from China?

One of the very first: 
a cat ornament from Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Chuck,
a gift in 1994, folk art from Mississippi.
Now our annual tree has grown to become festooned by all manner of mementos, from folk art to the fancy decorations that adorned some of my baby shower gifts twelve years ago, to the little things that remind me of the people we love, and the people we have lost.

Pew marker from cousin Carolyn's wedding in 2000, where Cayley tossed rose petals as the show-stopping
21-month-old flower girl.
Swarovski snowflake from 1998, a sobering memento of our Enron days, when hundred-dollar trinkets were passed around as freely as Hershey's holiday kisses
The Norfolks can't take much weight, so we hang the heavier oraments on the skirt.  These include an ornament I ordered in duplicate and had engraved, one for us, one for my friend Didi's family, during the last Christmas we spent with them before she died.  This photo also shows oraments from three different trips to Nova Scotia, and several gifts from family members.  The "Dream Snow" book was a final gift from Didi to Cayley.  The "Night Before Christmas" book derived from my maternal family and is over fifty years old.  And the two Santa Claus candles were purchased for me by my late paternal grandmother.  She died before she was able to give them to me, and I have never opened the box. 
As my ex-husband used to frequently remind me, "Not everything in life can be made into a deep, meaningful experience."  That's certainly true, but this is Christmas, for Christ's sake.  If not this, then what?!

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